As the college basketball season progresses toward March, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is still searching for answers to his team's struggles.
Nearly a year after making a surprising run to the Final Four for the fifth time in his 41-year career, the Hall of Fame coach is staring at a daunting schedule going forward.
Call it make-or-break time.
''We need to get better. That's what I can say for sure,'' Boeheim said.
Before the end of the month, the Orange (10-7, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has three straight games against ranked opponents - at No.11 North Carolina and No. 20 Notre Dame and a home game against No. 9 Florida State. The three had a combined record of 46-6 heading into this weekend.
After tinkering with his lineup, Boeheim guided Syracuse to convincing wins at home last week over Miami and Pittsburgh . The defense rose to the occasion and point guard John Gillon had 11 assists in each game to inject some needed confidence after a lackluster nonconference schedule that produced five losses.
Any hope that Boeheim had finally pieced together a lineup that would take care of the team's early-season problems was dashed on Tuesday night in a 10-point road loss to Virginia Tech. The Hokies shot nearly 50 percent from the floor while Gillon was 2-for-9 shooting in a performance that produced just three assists with two turnovers.
The most telling statistic of all, perhaps: Virginia Tech scored 17 points in transition to zero for Syracuse, a team that historically has thrived in transition.
''I think that they forgot we won two games in a row because our defense was good,'' Boeheim said. ''Our defense was horrendous, and our offense isn't going to quite be good enough to make up for that level of defense.''
The long-range offense certainly wasn't there, either. Syracuse was 5 of 17 (29.4 percent), a subpar performance for a team that has hit 154 3-pointers, second in the ACC to Notre Dame.
That forward Tyler Lydon, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, was hurt early in the game didn't help, either. He came in averaging 13.5 points in league play but scored just two against the Hokies, hitting 1 of 5 from the floor in 29 minutes.
''He said he was all right,'' Boeheim said. ''Probably should have not played him. He didn't move very well.''
Syracuse returns to action on Saturday at home against Boston College (9-8, 2-2 ACC), and the memory of their first meeting of the season likely hasn't faded for either team. Two weeks ago in the Orange's ACC opener at BC, the Eagles trashed the Syracuse zone, hitting hit 16 of 26 shots from 3-point range in a 96-81 triumph.
BC is coming off a 74-66 win at home over North Carolina State on Thursday night. This clearly isn't the team that a year ago went 0-18 in the ACC during the regular season and lost its only conference tourney game. Jerome Robinson has scored 20 or more points in eight straight games and an ACC-best 13 times overall to rank third in conference scoring (20.9), and freshman Ky Bowman already is an Orange killer after hitting 7 of 8 from beyond the arc the first game.
And so it goes for the Orange, whose postseason hopes seem to be teetering. Still no lasting consistency.
''We did have a lot of potential coming into the year,'' said graduate transfer Andrew White, the team's leading scorer. ''But potential doesn't mean much when you don't execute to get the most out of what you have.''
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